Harry sat up away from the back of the sofa and stretched, but it did no good. The ache that felt as if it was coming from under and between his shoulder blades failed to go away. At first, he had thought that maybe he had pulled something in Quidditch practice, but usually aches and pains faded with a little time.
A trip to the hospital wing had crossed his mind after a couple of days, but Harry didn't like to bother people with minor things. If growing up with the Dursleys had taught him anything, it was to be self-sufficient. A minor back pain did not warrant any fuss.
"You okay, mate?" Ron asked from where he was currently trouncing Neville at chess.
"Back ache," Harry replied and climbed to his feet to see if that would help at all.
"Still?" his friend said with a small frown, turning to face him fully.
Ron had noticed his discomfort the previous day and Harry had put him off with something about wrenching his shoulder while flying. From the expression on his friend's face now though, Harry doubted that he was going to get away with the same this time.
All he really wanted was for the annoying ache to go away. Being a wizard, he thought that he really should be able to cope with a simple pain, but, so far, the muscle relaxant potion he had made in detention the previous week was not working.
As he shifted his shoulders in an attempt to dislodge the dull throbbing it suddenly became a sharp stabbing pain. The agony shot through his back and down his spine causing him to give a startled, pain filled cry. For a moment, he felt light-headed.
"Harry!" Hermione said and shot out of her seat to his side.
His friend placed one hand under Harry's elbow and one gently on his back as she offered her support. Almost instantly she pulled one arm back, staring at her palm.
"Harry," Hermione said very slowly as if trying to remain calm, "we need to take you to Madam Pomfrey."
The expression in his friend's eyes was very worried. The stabbing pain was, once again, gone, but Harry was well aware the ache had increased considerably. At his questioning glance Hermione turned over her hand and revealed a deep red palm.
"You're bleeding," she said.
Ron and Hermione had both insisted on accompanying him to the hospital wing and it had only been both of their firm stances on the matter that had stopped half the seventh year from following them as well. Ever since the end of the war they had been a very tight-knit group. They were protective of their own, especially when it came to Harry.
The fact that he had survived at all was something of a miracle. His housemates took looking after him very seriously. He had been in a coma for two months after his victory over Voldemort and the whole year in his house had visited him in rotation the entire time. It seemed to have made him central to their lives. It had been over six months ago and Harry was as back to normal as he ever had been, but Gryffindor house did not seem to see it that way.
The moment they had entered the hospital wing Poppy had sat him on one of the beds and lifted the back of his black t-shirt to take a quick look. That was where things had become stranger. Poppy had muttered something to herself, sent Hermione and Ron off with platitudes, and then pulled screens round the bed.
"Please remove your top and lie face down on the bed, Harry," the woman said in a fair impression of her normal calm tone but missing it just slightly.
Harry had spent months recovering under Poppy's care after he had defeated Voldemort, he knew her very well. That was why when there was no one else around he always called her 'Poppy' and she always called him 'Harry'. It was also why he knew something was not right.
He had come to know the healer very well over the weeks he had been bed ridden after the coma, and the summer holiday where he had stayed at school to catch up with all the work he had missed while unconscious. His instincts told him something was bothering her as she busied about doing her job.
Lying down on his front with his arms under his head, he was very nervous about what Poppy had found, but he had not yet worked up the courage to ask. He found that the position was actually far more comfortable than any he had used as of yet and it eased the ache somewhat. That was enough of a relief to make him put off asking awkward questions.
"The bleeding is superficial," Poppy said efficiently as she carefully examined him, "but it is messy. I shall clean the wounds first, it may sting a little."
Before Harry could ask the obvious question of 'What wounds?' the healer moved away to retrieve her supplies. Almost as soon as she returned something cold and painful touched the skin between his shoulder blades. He groaned and buried his face in the pillow as whatever Poppy was using did, as suggested, sting like hell.
It took about thirty seconds for the needle like sensations his nerves were sending him to ebb away into blissful numbness, at which point Harry slowly relaxed. The healer's touch was gentle, and as she cleaned the injury and the rest of his back, he was lulled into a thoughtless daze.
Only when the swabs were replaced by the slight pressure of fingers did Harry remember the burning question that no longer allowed him to ignore it.
"What is it, Poppy?" he asked as the healer probed his back. "Why was I bleeding?"
There was worrying silence from the school nurse. Harry swivelled his head to try and look at the woman even if it was awkward. Poppy was staring at his back seriously and he did not like the expression on her face. He really didn't like it when she stood back, noticed he was looking at her and gave him a forced smile.
"Nothing to worry about, Harry," she said in a far too cheerful tone. "I'll be back in a few minutes. There is just something I need to check from your medical records. You lie still and relax."
And with that Poppy pulled the blanket from the end of the bed up over him, turned, and left him in his isolated little world inside the screens. For about ten seconds Harry tried to peer over his own shoulder and see what had caused the healer such discomfort, but of course it was futile, and it hurt. Eventually he collapsed back onto the bed and stared at the headboard wondering what on earth he had managed to do this time.
After the defeat of Voldemort, Harry had hoped his days of lying in the infirmary were over. Obviously, he had been wishing for the impossible.
Whatever potion Poppy had used on his back had eased the discomfort. He managed to stay alert for five minutes waiting for her to return before the relief let his mind drift. It had been three days since the ache had started and at least Harry could enjoy the fact that it was gone for a while.
He was not sure how long he was alone, but he snapped back to reality when he heard the familiar tones of Professor Dumbledore and Poppy. They were talking quietly, and their voices were very low, but if he strained hard, he could just make out some of their conversation.
"And there is no doubt, Poppy," the headmaster was saying calmly, "this is not someone's idea of a joke."
"No," Poppy replied in kind, "I checked for hexes and potions, this is a natural phenomenon."
"With no signs of complications," Dumbledore sounded as if he was confirming something the healer had already told him.
"They look perfectly healthy," the woman told the old wizard firmly. "The poor dear must have been in pain for days. I sometimes wonder what that boy's been though when something like this didn't bring him running the moment it started."
Their voices dropped much lower suddenly and Harry could not hear what they were saying. He was intrigued and a little worried, but it didn't sound as if he was about to die or anything like that, which put pay to his worst fears.
"Ah well," the headmaster's voice rose again, "I suppose we should give Harry the news. I do wish it was not always him."
Poppy made an agreeing noise and the sound of footsteps made it to Harry's ears. He swivelled slightly as the screens rustled and his eyes met those of Dumbledore.
"Good evening, Harry," the headmaster greeted warmly, "I do hope you are not feeling too dreadful."
"Whatever Madam Pomfrey put on my back has helped a lot thank you, Professor," he replied while trying to gage Dumbledore's mood. "What's happening to me?"
Harry did not want to play games and he did not want anyone trying to break it to him gently; he just wanted to know. Dumbledore looked at him with that annoyingly stoic way he had before nodding.
"It is quite straightforward, Harry," Dumbledore told him, "you are growing wings."
The desire to laugh rose in Harry at the absurdity of the headmaster's statement and it took him long seconds to realise that the man was not joking.
"I'm what?" he asked, totally unable to keep the incredulity out of his voice.
"You are growing wings," Dumbledore replied. "The pain you experienced earlier was the nubs breaking through the skin."
Harry's brain rebelled and completely failed to believe the headmaster. However, he knew Albus Dumbledore far too well to consider the possibility that the old wizard had finally lost it, even when his own psyche told him it had to be true. Human beings did not grow wings, not even magical human beings, unless they were under a spell.
"This cannot be happening," Harry said more to try and calm the thundering of his heart than anything else.
"I'm afraid to say it is," Dumbledore said kindly, "but do not worry, my boy, it is perfectly natural."
"Natural?" Harry almost lost it, just about managing to bring himself under control before he yelled the place down. "How can wings be natural?"
He tried to turn over at that point, but the headmaster's firm hand on his shoulder prevented that.
"Lie still, Harry," Dumbledore said gently, "you do not want to aggravate the wounds until they have sealed in their new form. I shall come and sit where you can see me and then I shall answer all your questions."
There was no arguing with the tone Dumbledore was using. Doing his best not to curse the world in general, Harry buried his face in his hands and waited for the headmaster to sit down. He heard Dumbledore exchange a few quiet words with Poppy, but he ignored them as the shock poured through his system. Only at a light touch on his shoulder did Harry turn his head to find the headmaster watching him from little more than a foot away.
"Why am I growing wings?" he asked a little desperately. "Please tell me this is not some joke of Voldemort's from beyond the grave."
"This has little to do with Tom Riddle," Dumbledore assured him calmly, "except for the fact that you absorbed his power, but I shall come to that shortly."
The headmaster paused and observed Harry thoughtfully, giving him no doubt that the old wizard was about to go on.
"Harry, my boy," Dumbledore began eventually, "this may come as a surprise to you, but this is not the first time you have had the makings of wings."
The headmaster was right, that was a surprise, but Harry didn't have a chance to say so.
"You were born with vestigial wings," was the next revelation to pass Dumbledore's lips, "which is not as unusual as you may think. There are several wizarding families with ancestral irregularities that result in such occurrences. The Potter line is prone to the occasional hint of wings and the happenstance actually delighted your father, since it is a sign of the strength of the child's magic. Your wings would never have developed and hence your parents had them removed when you were only a few days old."
This was enough of a shock, but the news did of course beg one obvious question.
"Why wings?" Harry asked, not sure if he really wanted to know the answer.
"Seraphim," the headmaster said.
Harry blinked at Dumbledore wondering if he had heard correctly.
"Seraphim," he said slowly. "Isn't that a kind of angel?"
Harry's religious knowledge was limited, the Dursleys had not been particularly devout Anglicans, but he definitely remembered something about cherubim and seraphim. Christmas had been the one and only time Aunt Petunia had seen fit to drag the whole family, which surprisingly, until he went to Hogwarts, had included Harry, to church. Looking back, he suspected that it might have been one of his Aunt's vague ploys to de-magic him.
"I believe Muggles used the name to mean that," Dumbledore told him thoughtfully, "and I suppose Seraphim do meet most of the descriptive criteria, but they are in fact magical creatures. They appear human in many ways and from a distance you would never know until they unfurl their wings. They are more secretive than centaurs and very few ever come into contact with what they consider the lower races. One of your ancestors found her way into one of their hearts and the heritage has descended through the Potter line."
"But why now?" there were hundreds of questions floating in Harry's mind and he chose one at random.
"Because of how powerful you have become, Harry," Dumbledore explained kindly. "Seraphim are much more than simply magical: they are magic. For Seraphim to reproduce takes a great deal of raw power and when one combined with a human line the amount of magic required was not available. That is what I meant when I said that any hint of wings was a sign of a wizard's potential. That you exhibited any indication of Seraphim heritage at all as a baby showed a staggering magical ability on your part, Harry. When you absorbed Voldemort's powers you, shall we say, initiated the previously dormant subsection of your nature."
Harry felt like screaming, but he bit his tongue and tried to remain rational. For once he would have preferred something like this to happen to someone else.
"Can we get rid of them?" he asked quietly, dreading the answer that he knew was coming.
"I'm sorry, my boy, but no," the headmaster said gently. "When your wings were removed as a child they were not developed and hence, were more of an adornment than a limb. Your new ones, as far as Poppy can tell, are fully functional and have evolved as part of your physical being. To remove them would seriously damage you."
Harry couldn't help himself, he moaned and buried his face in his hands. Dumbledore placed a calming hand on his shoulder and appeared to be waiting until he was ready to continue.
"How big are they going to be?" Harry finally asked and turned tired eyes to his headmaster.
"Unfurled," Dumbledore said calmly, "at least five meters in span. What you must remember is that Seraphim wings are not natural wings like those of a bird, they are far more useful and far more dynamic. They are magically controlled rather than physically and are a powerful defence mechanism. Very few hexes can penetrate a Seraphim's wings when they are used as a shield. They will of course allow you to fly, and the best news is that unless you choose to use them, they will be no more noticeable than they are now."
That made Harry mentally sit up and take note. When he had been told he was growing wings he had imagined six-foot high masses of feathers or wispy little butterfly wings. Now he was confused.
"How can wings with a span of five meters not show?" he asked, not sure how it could be possible.
"Magical wings, remember, Harry," Dumbledore said with a slight smile. "The wing nubs are all that are physically visible normally. When the wings are unfurled the nubs split open and the wings are released."
Harry winced, that sounded unpleasant.
"I believe the wings are retracted in the opposite manner," the headmaster explained.
There was of course something else that occurred to Harry as he did his best to assimilate the whole explanation. He did not really want to ask, but he had learnt painfully that not having all the information was worse than knowing the truth.
"Will the wings be the end of it?" he asked quietly.
"Quite possibly, my boy," the headmaster replied, "but there is no way to be sure. You are the strongest wizard the Potter line has ever seen and hence you are the first to ever display this level of integration with your heritage. I would suggest that we leave crossing any further bridges until they arise."
At least on that point Harry agreed with him.
Harry walked into the Gryffindor common room feeling sore and a little depressed, although nowhere near as bad as he had felt the previous evening. The wounds through which his wing nubs had grown had healed with unnatural speed, and although still somewhat raw, did not send shooting pains down his back every time he moved anymore.
Poppy had helpfully held up a mirror behind him so he could examine what his back now looked like and it had not been as bad as he had feared. The wing nubs were in fact two iridescent ridges about an inch wide that ran just below each shoulder blade for four or five times their width. If he had not been told what they were, he never would have guessed.
It was Saturday and still early and there was no one to see Harry as he trudged across the common room in his jeans and a regulation hospital wing pyjama shirt. He had not slept well because Poppy's potion had worn off after an hour or so and the soreness of the healing wounds had kept him awake. Hence, he was very tired. He had been quite surprised when the healer had released him after an early breakfast. He had a pot of ointment in one hand, his ruined t-shirt in the other, and only one thing on his mind: fall into his nice comfy bed and sleep the day away.
He made it as far as falling on his face on his mattress before the plan crumbled.
"Harry's back," it was Neville's voice and his dorm mate sounded excitedly pleased.
There were sleepy replies from around the room and Harry groaned as he heard more than one person slip out of bed. When the curtain beside his head moved to let in the early morning sunlight, he slammed a hand over his eyes and considered burying his head under his pillow.
"Go away," he said petulantly, "I'm trying to sleep."
"Wow, you look rough, Mate," Ron's uncooperative voice said from close by.
"Too right," Seamus agreed loudly.
Knowing a losing battle when he heard it, Harry slowly opened his eyes and peered at his friends. After a quick inspection he realised that his dorm mates were gathered on either side of his bed. He would have turned over so he could see them better, but he didn't feel like sitting up, and lying on his back was not happening at the moment.
"Funny that," Harry said sarcastically and put his head back down on the bed, "might have something to do with the whole half hours sleep I got last night."
"Very rough," was Dean's helpful input into the conversation.
As Ron shifted beside the bed, a shaft of sunlight that had previously been obscured by his friend found its way through and hit Harry squarely in the face. He reconsidered shoving his head under the pillow. It was an extremely close thing.
"How's your back?" Ron asked in a very concerned manner. "Not serious I hope."
"If it was serious Madam Pomfrey would have me chained to a bed in the hospital wing," Harry pointed out as his mood failed to improve, especially with the mental images he had just conjured for himself.
His annoyance failed to encourage his friends to leave him alone. Part of him was grateful, but most of him just wanted to sleep.
"So, what was it?" Ron asked sounding a little put out.
Harry really did not want to explain everything to his dorm mates, if at all possible, he never wanted to explain, which was why he picked a white lie.
"Wings," he said, which was the truth, "someone hexed me with wings," he elaborated in a lie, "Madam Pomfrey fixed me up, but it hurt like hell where they came through for a while."
"Really, you had wings?" Neville sounded surprisingly delighted by the idea. "I've never heard of a hex that grows them like that though."
Sleep was beckoning Harry with open arms and he honestly wanted to simply close his eyes.
"Probably Snape's idea of a joke," he mumbled into his pillow and let his eyelids droop.
Somebody asked him something else, but it didn't make a lot of sense. The growth of wings had taken more out of Harry than not allowing him to sleep for one night and he drifted from the waking world gratefully. He barely noticed that he was still holding the small bottle of ointment.
When he woke up, Harry felt less sore. This progress in his health improved his mood somewhat. As he tentatively shifted and slowly climbed off the bed, he was not surprised to find Ron sitting on his own bed reading a Quidditch magazine. Harry didn't really mind, although he knew his friend was keeping an eye on him.
"Welcome back," Ron said with a cheerful smile, "feeling better?"
Harry nodded and slowly stood up, experimentally flexing his back. There was a slight twinge as he moved his shoulder blades, but that was all, which was even better than the morning had been.
"What time is it?" he asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and picking up his glasses from where he had thrown them.
"About two I think, Mate," Ron replied, standing up as well. "I tried to wake you for lunch, but you weren't having any of it."
As if to point out that this had been a bad thing, Harry's stomach grumbled quite loudly.
"Guess I'll be taking a trip to the kitchens then," Harry said with a half-smile. "Sorry about this morning, it was one hell of a night. When I'm cleaned up, have found some food, and can put two thoughts together, you, me and Hermione need to have a long talk."
At that Ron walked up to him and seemed torn as to whether to be worried or not.
"What you told the guys wasn't true, then?" Ron asked.
"Not completely," Harry replied, deciding that honesty was the only way to go with his best friends, "it's a bit more complicated than that. Nothing terrible, but let's just say I could live without it."
Ron gave him a sympathetic thump on the shoulder and Harry winced as this gesture caused another twinge, but smiled anyway.
"Never mind, Harry," his best friend said as supportive as he always was these days, "I'm sure we'll figure it out."
Since the defeat of Voldemort, Ron had turned out to be surprisingly optimistic about most things. His faith that everything would work out was a great comfort to Harry.
"Yeah," he agreed, feeling much better about the whole situation than he had earlier, "let's hope."
And with that he stretched again and then bent down to rummage for his wash things in his trunk. What he needed right now was a nice hot bath.
Bathing and letting the house elves feed him and Ron until they burst improved Harry's mood even further. He was feeling much happier by the time they tracked down Hermione and convinced her to leave her Potions homework and follow them to an empty classroom. It was not as if he was pleased by his new anatomical additions, but he had faced much worse. It was not as if this was a life or death situation. All he had to do really was forget about them and get on with life.
"So, what is it, Harry?" Hermione asked after she closed the door. "Ron said something earlier about someone hexing you with wings."
"It wasn't a hex," he said with complete honestly, "but it was wings."
Although he had not explained much, this answer seemed to please Hermione.
"Well that at least explains why I've never heard of a hex like that," she said.
Ron did not seem to share her opinion.
"Hexes are usually instantaneous," Hermione explained, "Harry was showing symptoms for days according to what you told me. Now if it had been a long term curse, I could have understood it but..."
She trailed off and Harry gave her a little smile for her restraint. As far as he could tell Hermione's explanation cleared up Ron's confusion, after all there were several hexes that could give a person wings; the twins had used enough of them over the years he had known them.
"What was it then, Mate?" Ron asked curiously.
"This," he replied and turned his back on them while pulling his oversized T-shirt over his head.
"Harry," Hermione said almost instantly, "those look sore."
He didn't move as both of his friends stepped forward to take a better look.
"They aren't so bad now," he told them, "but they hurt like hell most of the night. I have some ointment in the dorm and they're going to be tender for a couple of days, but the worst is over."
There were a few seconds of silence and then Hermione asked the obvious question.
"You mentioned wings," she said, "is this what's left of them?"
"Those are them," Harry replied, "what you can see is the wing nubs. The wings are magical, the come from inside. I'd show you, but I'm a little sketchy on the details myself."
"Wow," was Ron's concise opinion.
"Yes, Hermione, you can touch them if you're careful," Harry said, interpreting the awkward silence that fell after that.
Delicate fingertips connected with the wing nubs almost instantly and Harry couldn't help it; he shuddered. The sensations the light touch sent through his body were not what he was expecting. He shied away rapidly.
"Sorry," he apologised quickly, "that tickled."
Which was sort of true, but he made a mental note that his wing nubs were an erogenous zone and dropped his T-Shirt back down.
"They feel like a cross between leather and silk," Hermione commented as he turned back around. "How long are you going to have them?"
"Forever," Harry replied with a little shrug and saw the shock register on both his friends' faces.
It was obvious that even though they knew it wasn't a hex, they had assumed that some other magical method had created and would remove the wings.
"But if someone did this to you can't Madam Pomfrey reverse it?" Ron asked and frowned.
It was explanation time. Harry chose to perch on a nearby desk.
"No one did this to me, unless you count one of my ancestors marrying a Seraphim being someone doing something to me," Harry told them and found himself surprisingly calm about the whole thing. "I was born with vestigial wings, but they were removed when I was really little. When I absorbed Voldemort's power it started them off again."
Hermione sat down with her mouth open. Ron also appeared at a loss to find anything to say, although he clearly didn't have as much as an idea of what Harry was talking about as Hermione did.
"Seraphim," she said slowly, "they're very rare."
"I didn't know they were rare," Harry said, "but considering how much magic it takes to make one, that makes sense. I do know they aren't fond of mixing with humans; worse than the centaurs according to Dumbledore."
He could almost see his friend cataloguing everything she knew about Seraphim in her head. He had no doubt she would be heading for the library at the earliest opportunity. Ron had been staring at him in amazement, but his expression was softening as he accepted the facts.
"No wonder you were in a bad mood this morning, Mate," his best friend said sympathetically. "So, can you fly or what?"
It was just like Ron to move straight to the point. Harry found himself smiling at his best friend's bluntness.
"Dumbledore says I should be able to," he said, "but I won't be jumping off the Astronomy tower any time soon. I'm going to have to figure out how they work, and I'd rather most people didn't know I'm even weirder than they think I am."
"You're not weird, Harry," Hermione said in a tone that begged no argument, "you're incredibly magically gifted and you had a madman after you most of your life; that's not weird it's a combination of good and bad luck that happened to make you an icon."
She nodded as if to back up her point, but Harry couldn't help it; he laughed.
Since the previous evening he had been so tense and worried, even if some of his anxiety had eased, and Hermione's show of support both touched him and tickled him at the same time. It was just what he needed to crack the tension and once he started chuckling, he couldn't stop. For a moment Hermione just looked at him, but slowly she smiled and then she began to laugh as well. Ron appeared at a loss for a while, but it didn't take him long to join it.
The whole situation was faintly ridiculous: he had wings; he was related to barely understood magical creatures; and everything always seemed to happen to him. Harry just let it all out. By the time he had finished he could barely stand up.